What goes into a $50 million renovation? How Australia’s richest design their homes


When you’re dealing with home renovations that can run to $50 million, the clients aren’t like everybody else. Interior designer and former Aussie Queer Eye host Brendan Wong discusses those highest-tier clients. 

Tell me about working with these very high-end customers

There is something that sets apart these clients from the average property owner. They come with quite developed interests. My role is to tailor the house to those interests. For example, the average high-end home would usually have a beautiful outdoor swimming pool, but at this tier of property, if someone’s got an interest in swimming as an exercise, we might do a second pool indoors so they can swim in private. It’s about that privacy and luxury, so an indoor pool might have heated floors and heated sun lounges. It’s probably also got infrared saunas and hot and cold plunge pools. Adjacent to that, they might also have rooms where a beauty therapist or hairstylist gives them treatments without having to leave home. 

It’s about that privacy and luxury, so an indoor pool might have heated floors and heated sun lounges. It’s probably also got infrared saunas and hot and cold plunge pools.

Brendan Wong

These clients are often avid collectors. Once upon a time, that was art. But it’s pretty varied now. People might have quite a large collection of fine watches. Watches are usually kept wound by the motion of your wrist as you’re walking. So we’re designing built-in cabinets that move and rotate to mimic that action – always on time, ready to go. 

Car collections are another thing that we have to accommodate. Garages might have marble floors, timber and wallpaper on the walls, and atmospheric lighting, so it presents more like a fine-car showroom than your average concrete and brick garage. 

Presumably, these things are going in underground ?

Yes, which is an engineering feat in itself, because if you want to maintain the existing house, sometimes that house has to be temporarily underpinned while excavating two levels below ground to accommodate the garage and indoor pools.

I imagine they’d have influential neighbours who wouldn’t want their views and sunlight disturbed?

Yes, but these people are also mindful of their neighbours. They’re about to move into a new neighbourhood. People are quite respectful of that. You only hear the horror stories. 

Are clients who are self-made different from those born into wealth? 

I think they might be different in that they may not have decades of experience of living in a property like the one that they’re about to build, as opposed to someone born into wealth who would have grown up in a large, luxury house.  
But self-made people have an enthusiasm for understanding what’s available, so I enjoy being part of that journey with them. 

Do the new tech multi-millionaires have different design demands to previous generations? 

There are some similarities between those more youthful clients and those in the retirement phase of life. There’s definitely a trend towards super luxury apartments instead  
of free-standing houses. These apartments have multiple bedrooms and ensuites, wine cellars, and three living spaces.

These apartments have multiple bedrooms and ensuites, wine cellars, and three living spaces.

Brendan Wong

I’m seeing a trend towards that from young people and the people in the retirement category because it delivers them everything that they expect from a free-standing house, but the flexibility to lock it up and leave and also the opportunity to live somewhere like Elizabeth Bay without needing to have an estate.  

And how are they to manage on a personal level compared to other clients?  

They’ve had significant successes in life. And part of being successful is being smart. So they understand when it’s important to get involved with us as the designer, and also when pulling back and letting us do our job will give them a better result. They understand that because they’ve had to do that in their business. So I’m conscious about service delivery as much as I am about design. 

Is money ever not an object? Are these people cost-driven? 

They certainly have an awareness of cost and choose carefully. And where they  
want to go higher is usually just to satisfy some of those unique things that tick their boxes.  
The properties are generally very well situated in terms of position, view and aspect. There’s no case for over-capitalising because you almost can’t do it. 

How do you approach these enormous interiors to make them liveable?  

These homes are often super-scaled. What I aim to do with the interiors is break them down into a series of more homely, intimate spaces. Obviously, there’s a connection between those spaces, but apart from designing the fixed interior, we take them down to furnishings, decoration, and artwork. 

How much time might you need with a client to pull off a job like that? 

Some people have a very open brief and intentionally don’t want to be involved in too much of the detail. Other clients come to us with quite a specific brief, and because of the scale of the houses, we usually break it down into components to make it more manageable.  

Do you get a virtual reality tour of your designs before they come to life? 

Clients certainly get computer-generated fixed views or scenes, and could also get a computer-generated walkthrough. We can take the floor plan of the house and project it at actual scale onto the floor of a studio so that they can walk through the 2D floor-plan. These things are about them understanding how you move through the space for size. 

What features are on trend these days for the high, high-end homes? 

I think technology always plays a part in trends these days. I would also say bathrooms. It seems they are becoming part bathroom, part wellness centres. People are now wanting to have steam showers in the bathroom. They also want heated walls – for people with arthritis, if you’re leaning up against the wall, it’s like a gentle warming kind of feeling that you might get from a hot-stone massage – as well as ice baths. 

What’s your favourite high, high-end home job? 

I can’t give you anything that would identify the property or the client. Everything I’ve been telling you has been from our clients, but unfortunately, part of dealing with these people is that we are often having to sign binding non-disclosure agreements, so they don’t form part of our portfolio. 

I was told the other day about a start-up founder who spent $6 million just on the joinery for his knockdown rebuild  

Yes, so imagine if you think the joinery is $6 million, the natural stone and marble will be another $15 million. 

How expensive is the most expensive interior you have done? 

It’s more than you think. I’m not comfortable with actually (saying that).